Remembering Belmiro de Azevedo

A remarkable entrepreneur, a leader, a visionary who challenged us constantly and someone who always wanted to do more.

Remembering Belmiro de Azevedo
It is with great nostalgia that I pen this tribute to Belmiro de Azevedo, ‘The Engineer’ as we affectionately called him.

He was a remarkable entrepreneur, a leader, a visionary who challenged us constantly and someone who always wanted to do more.

I met him in my youth, during the vibrant 1980s. Spending even a minute in his company gave you a feeling of excitement – if I could only convey his strength of personality, the depth in his eyes and the mischief in his smile.

I seized an opportunity to join the Sonae Group 18 years ago. As was the dream of many professionals, it came true for me. ‘The Engineer’ himself interviewed me for the job, to this day, it was one of the most remarkable conversations I have ever had – it filled me with motivation and excitement – even joy. I will never forget it. Nor will I ever forget his exemplary morals and the culture of ethics and independence he fostered.

It was my good fortune that, as CEO at MDS, then a small captive broker, he and I would discuss all the insurance and risk issues affecting the Group. I immediately realized I was facing a rare corporate leader. He viewed risk and insurance as his responsibility; not the financial or procurement director’s, but his. How right he was, and how rare is this attitude. And the culture he supported still exists in the Group he founded.

Belmiro had an understanding of insurance strategy, from business continuity, asset protection and employee safety to the reputational impact of a claim and the consequences of exposure due to inadequate contract wording. He was extraordinary to work with. MDS today owes a great deal to the seeds he sowed in the early years: challenging us to innovate, operate internationally and create outstanding teams. 

He knew all too well about the complexities of our business and the powerful impact it could have on companies and societies. I recently spent time rereading the speech he gave at the 20th- anniversary party for MDS, in June 2004. We were building the foundations for Brokerslink at the time and it seemed almost a dream that was shared by a small group of brokers who wanted to conquer the world. His speech outlined the plans and ambition behind what is our global brokerage firm today. That speech moves me to this day. 

Belmiro was a role model as an entrepreneur. He always considered his companies to be active contributors to the country’s economy and was proud to be the largest private employer and tax payer. He help to improve the markets, make them more efficient and ethical, operating independently of the State, cartels and monopolies. He would always invest where there was balanced competition.

A true entrepreneur, Belmiro took chances, daring to innovate and take the initiative. He turned many of his managers into entrepreneurs themselves, and they are now respected market leaders.

Speculation did not please him – he’d rather create value through employment and investment. Always far‑sighted, he led the way with his vision for retail, industry, telecommunication, real estate and of course, risk management and insurance. To Belmiro de Azevedo education was a lifelong passion; he tirelessly supported executive training in Portugal as well as in leading international schools. 

He was a well‑informed man, with a profound knowledge of corporate culture, yet always keeping his ear to the ground in this changing world. In a little over five decades, the Group he built from small foundations now has over 40,000 employees in around 90 countries, with two holding companies trading in stock exchanges. To this day it is a family‑controlled, professionally managed group. 

He was the greatest Portuguese entrepreneur of the past 100 years. Many of us now miss him. We miss the voice, the smile and the challenges. 

Thank you, Belmiro de Azevedo.

By José Manuel Fonseca

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